Being the first of anything is always a challenge. Blinking Owl Distillery co-owners, husband and wife, and longtime Santa Ana residents, Brian and Robin Christianson know that all too well. After setting aside their careers and devoting nearly four years to conceptualizing, researching and planning the business and build-out of the first craft distillery in Orange County, they’ve finally opened their doors – just in time for California laws surrounding the production and selling of spirits on premise to catch up.
The American craft beer movement started in Northern California in the late 70s and over four decades has grown to have more operating breweries than any other state in the country. But it took up until last year for California (later than many other states in the country) to pass a law granting craft spirits distilleries similar rights as the brewing industry. This is a game changer for the state. And Blinking Owl’s timing couldn’t be better.
Set in an industrial part of Santa Ana, after only two months of being open for business, the distillery has already been embraced by the community and other local businesses. Locally made liquor has been a welcome and much-needed part of the Southern California food and drink scene, and Brian and Robin along with their partner, co-owner and friend Kirsten Vangsness have made it a point to celebrate and pay homage to their community.
From using locally sourced grains and botanicals to produce their spirits to naming the business after a historic mid-century bar in the area that they had heard stories about, they aim to keep it local.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have been big plans and a desire to grow outside of their neck of the woods. Blinking Owl’s state of the art facilities point to their clear ambition to produce well outside their state.
At the moment, Blinking Owl is producing a vodka, an orange flavored vodka made from Valencia oranges grown locally, and an aquavit made with the traditional caraway as well as hibiscus – the flower of Santa Ana.
This month, they plan on producing their first gin. And just this past week, they barreled their first rye whiskey.
Since they plan on milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, and barrel aging in-house, we won’t be able to see any Blinking Owl whiskeys available for a few years from now.
In the meantime, their current spirits line-up is solid. And the Christianson’s passion for what they are doing is palpable.
Brian made us one of their signature cocktails created by local Orange County resident, Kayli Gennaro, which included both their vodka and aquavit.
It was such a lovely cocktail, I wanted to share it with you all here…
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well-chilled and strain into a coupe glass (or martini glass). Express an orange peel over the drink, scent the rim of the glass, and discard the peel. Slap a sprig of thyme in the palm of your hand to express aromatic oils and drop in glass as garnish.
If you live in the area, Blinking Owl Distillery’s tasting room is open and you can book a tour now! I highly recommend it. When you visit, tell them, Bit by a Fox sent you.
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